The Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center for the Park District of Oak Park, IL is designed to inspire and teach about energy conservation, water conservation, and connection to nature. PDOP required space for children’s nature day camps, environmental education programs, seasonal activities, and other community events, in a building that would demonstrate good environmental stewardship. The project was recently awarded LEED Platinum status.
The team employed biophilic design principles to create a building whose form is inspired by the park’s tree canopy, as an evocation of the oak savanna that was native to the area. With a sloped wood ceiling and expansive windows that open onto views of the park’s green space, the meeting hall is the heart of the Center. Support spaces form a dense “understory” against the alley. Outside the building, landscape design minimized tree removal, provided outdoor classroom garden space, incorporated rain gardens for runoff, and provided a public plaza to the west of the building.
The thermal envelope was designed using Passive design strategies like optimum insulation, thermal bridge avoidance, airtightness, and triple-glazed windows. Heating and cooling uses a ground-source heat pump (geothermal) system with heat recovery ventilation. A solar photovoltaic system was designed to offset the predicted annual energy use of the facility. All lighting is LED, using motion detection for auto-shutoff and daylight dimming. Rainwater is slowed through a green roof, then collected in a cistern for toilet flushing, while excess is diverted to rain gardens on site.